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Monday, 27 April 2015

RPGPundit Reviews: The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence

This is a review of the OSR setting, "The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence", described as "an old school weird science-fantasy campaign setting and wilderness hex-crawl".  It is written by "Venger As'Nas Satanis", the OSR's resident Cthulhu-Worshiping Satanist Magician; you know, the type of guy I've written about in some of my "Real Magick in RPGs" blog series.  His continued existence is proof that he's either not a real magician, or Cthulhu is not a real being. Or maybe both.

Anyways, "Islands" is a 106 page softcover, published by "Kort'thalis Publishing" (Cthulhu sure does like his apostrophes!), with a full color cover of a needlessly-salacious pair of female buttocks looking over a nightmarish sort of landscape; the words "caution: mature content!" appear in bright red on the front cover, but somehow 'mature' is not the first word the image brings to mind.

  I should mention that in my experience Venger is definitely one of these guys (like James Desborough) who like to court controversy and outrage on purpose (could you really expect anything less from a guy who's no doubt chosen the last name "Satanis"? I assume that's not an old family name..); I know I'm sometimes included in that same list but in my case (as in some others) it's really that I just don't give a shit, as opposed to actively trying to find (sophomoric) ways to be 'edgy' about sex or violence with my RPGs in the hopes of getting negative attention.

None of that impresses me much, but I won't judge a book by its cover (in this case literally).  The interior art is certainly filled with relatively good-quality art, mostly of Lovecraftian monstrosities of different kinds, most of which manage to be impressive (a few even actually creepy) without being needlessly offensive; though I'll note that in the entire book out of the half-dozen or so images that have identifiable female figures in them, all but one are either naked or very scantily-clad (with a predominance of bare buttocks and thigh-high boots).  While none of the images are explicitly sexual several are being attacked by monsters while naked and/or bound.  I guess that's the author's interpretation of 'maturity'.  It's the kind of thing that would give Tracy Hurley conniption fits if she wasn't too busy being worried about how tight Aleena the Cleric's full-body chain mail looks.

(even the map has tentacles!)

But fine; let's accept that the art here is almost certainly an intentional ploy to get attention by causing outrage, and move on.  The question then is whether the content is any good?  Note: you'll need to read this whole review, to get the big picture, because it's complicated.

The book starts (after some in-game fiction that, like most in-game fiction, is forgettable) with a set of "optional rules for the GM".  The first few of these are not particularly good; in the sense that while nothing is terribly wrong with them they don't really fit (to me) the old-school model.  You get a system of task-resolution that the author admits is inspired by countless dice-pool mechanics (which are really, to me, outside the whole boundary-markers of what defines old-school), where you roll a number of D6 based on the perceived difficulty of the task and have to count any die that results in a 6.  Then you have an optional rule for giving players a +1 to their d20 rolls if they are suitably flowery in their description of their actions (an example: instead of saying "I put up my shield" they say "just before he shoots something from his luminous fingers I raise my shield for protection"; in other words, precisely the kind of needless wordiness without meaningful value that I don't particularly want to encourage).  Then there's a mechanic whereby if a player asks a question about whether there is something in the environment (example: "is there something down that well?") the GM should roll a flat 33% chance that there in fact is.  None of these are mechanics I would want to implement in an old-school game.
After some suggested porting-over of 3e D&D's "attack of opportunity" and "flanking" rules (again, no!), and a checklist for how to frame a one-shot adventure, you get the advice that every player should (when creating a character) tell the GM one thing about their character that is not written on the character sheet, which is not terrible but not exactly brilliant either.

It does start to get better after that, however. At this point we start getting into some of the mods that specifically apply to the "islands" setting.  For example, you have a "darker secrets" table, which PCs can roll at character creation that involves strange details like "you have a special fondness for spiders and spider-like beings", or "after losing your wife and children in a recent war you want nothing more than to see the world burn".  There's still a few problems with this table: it only has 20 options (which really isn't enough for an OSR-type game where presumably a lot of characters will end up being cycled through), and some of the selections are kind of questionable in various ways: from "you were the product of incest, so you are either physically sensitive or emotionally cruel" to "you were convicted of rape and successfully escaped from prison" to "you're extremely nearsighted and this can't be corrected by lenses or magic" (for some damn reason not explained in the entry).  There's a rule for randomly rolling a flashback scene for each character before start of play, which is better than a lot of the background-stuff just by virtue of at least being interactive; it's the sort of thing that works really well in Amber (minus the randomness, of course) but probably won't be to the liking of a lot of Old-school gamers (for their old-school games at least).   Again on a better note, there's a rule for how magic-use is affected by the immensely unstable influence of chaos on the Islands: anytime you cast a spell, you roll a D6.  On a 6, the spell is doubled in all effects; on a 1 the spell has a disastrous discharge (it either has the opposite of its stated effect, or it affects the caster instead of its target).  On a 3, a random magical effect happens, most of which effects are harmful to the caster but a couple are neutral or arguably useful.  It's also stated, on a slightly later optional rule, that wizards can choose, on rolling a 1, to become chaos-aligned instead of having a disaster happen; and subsequently start to become mutated (unfortunately, it doesn't provide a random mutation table, which is a pity).

(note: in spite of Cthulhu-worship, this has not happened to Venger in real life)

We're also told that the Islands are full of dimensional gateways all over the place, so there's a random table as to where a given gateway leads.  The selections are generally lovecraftian (a world of the Old Ones, the distant past or future, R'lyeh, the Dreamlands) but a couple are unusual (a world that looks like an Erol Otus painting, Earth in the present day).

After this we get a few other Islands-specific rules:  there are apparently corpses of ancient worms lying around the island (not sure how that's an "optional rule"; maybe we switched sections without the reader being told?), and there are deep horrific things under the earth (again, that's all we're told, no 'optional rules' in sight).  There's also an effect that happens when you travel in time called chronosis, which causes temporary disorientation and memory loss.  There's some optional rules for fighting modifications after his first injury and when he's at death's door, and some rules for regaining hit points after resting.

Then we get an optional Monk class. It isn't radically different from other monk classes out there but with less special powers (only the ability to captivate an audience, and a sort of psychic attack that can potentially be deadly - literally blowing up an opponent's brain- but has a high element of chance and a constitution drain).

After this we find out about how magic swords work differently on the islands: they cause critical hits on a 19-20 if wielded by fighters; the crit effects are rolled on a table. Also, all magic swords that spend enough time on the island become intelligent, with a table of random personalities for said swords, and a random table for a sword's origin.

Finally, there's a random permanent injury table, rolled any time a PC gets to below 0 hp but somehow survives.

(there's this thing too, which must have come through one of the Islands' dimensional-gateways from a RIFTS sourcebook, or something)

So the next section is called "Running Purple" and here we get a guide to the setting information.  It starts with one of those lengthy past-history timelines, dating back from "20000 years ago". Back then the islands were apparently only one landmass, but later broke up.  A snake-man empire rose up, who rode on the ancient wyrms. They ruled for 7500 years until a coalition of men, elves and dwarves drove them out using magic to kill the wyrms. Two thousand years later a powerful Azure Witch took power, but her rule was cut short by the rise of the Purple Putrescence (of the title), a horrible purple mist full of tentacles that even to this day floats over the islands that dissolves living creatures, causes mutations, and all other kinds of terrible things.

The islands were also infested with strange crystals some 3200 years ago; these crystals augment magic but make it more chaotic.  There's other stuff too: the "tentacles from the water", a great inexplicable super-computer created by an unknown race, and in the last ten years some distant lands have started using the islands as a penal exile colony.

The islands, we are told, have a mind of their own, and there's a "what do the Islands want" table to roll on.

We are told that the Islands are intended as a sandbox, but in case a GM wants some more structure we're also given a table of potential adventure seeds.
We also have a random table that PCs can roll to determine what their own connection to the Islands are, why they're there.
There's also a good old 'rumor table', complete with a T and F rating for whether the rumor is true or false.

You can also get into truly gonzo territory with the "what happened when you were sleeping" table, which can cause a number of inexplicable effects, like having a severed head appear on a PC's bedroll, having a PC lose his memories, or a henchman getting his brain sucked out by something in the night, or a magic-user losing 1d6 memorized spells while they slept.

These various tables, and sections with interspersed detail, are not really put in any kind of coherent order as far as I can tell.  Likewise, there are some of the sections in the previous chapter that I would have put in this one, and vice versa.  Maybe Venger is trying to evoke the scrambled style that some old-school books had.  Some people find that kind of thing quaint.  I'd rather it had been put in some kind of more coherent arrangement, myself.

(or maybe he spent too much time trying to do this?)

In regard to the economics of the Islands, we are told that gold pieces (or other forms of coin economy) are not really used here; instead, trade is mainly done in slaves (particularly human and elven women, which given the whole aesthetic of the setting comes as no surprise), in magic, and advanced technology, as well as shelter and information.

From there we switch to guidelines as to how to obtain a "sherpa", a local guide.  And then, we suddenly veer to hearing about how if you profane the name of the Dark Gods you get a -2 penalty to saving throws for the next day, and if you profane the name of an Old One in the presence of a lead cultist you will get shot by a destructive wave of purple energy falling from the sky.  Clerics, priests, and holy men do get a percentage chance of divine intervention, though.

There's also more details on the Purple Putrescence, which (when it shows up) can randomly attack people with a save-or-die type of situation.

There's some details on the dreamlands, and on randomly-occurring mutagenic rain which leaves behind a lethal purple mist in a way pretty much identical to the Putrescence itself.

The whole of the islands seem to be some kind of machine, too.  There's random illusion-hidden control panels that can do various effects, and there is a "mechanical and mystical under-system" that is found deep beneath the islands that keep everything running, as it were.

Alongside this, there's also the mysterious "Black Pylons": trapezoidal monoliths that act as gateways to other dimensions, space and time, but only if you have the right crystals to use them.
The crystals are one of the more interesting details of the setting: they're all over the islands, mostly underground, though obviously a lot of people have ones that were already taken from under the earth. They come in a variety of colors; several of these allow you to use the Pylons to travel through dimensions or space/time.  Many of them also grant you one or more powers if you carry them, but most of them also come at a serious cost (of temporary daily draining of an ability score). Sometimes, combining two or more crystals can have powerful or catastrophic effects.  So they're good items in the sense of being a mix of powerful and dangerous.

After this, we get details on the various factions found on the Island.  This include descriptions of the major ones that detail their leaderships, beliefs, numbers, behaviours, agenda, technology level, common trade currencies, and any special details.  There's also random tables that simulate developments that may have happened with a faction since the last time the PC party encountered them; and a table for determining events that happen (between or at the start of adventures, presumably) if the PCs stay around with a certain faction for a while.  Factions include the worshipers of the Purple Putrescence, the mysterious Overlords who operate the underground machine, the native monkey-men of the islands, the hapless followers of the god of light, the remnants of the once-great Snake Men empire, and the followers of a strange deity called Zygak-Xith

Then we get a wandering monster table, a one-number saving throw chart for monsters (that is, if you're using or want to use a system where all saves are based on a single base number, which is what's used in Swords & Wizardry, if I recall correctly, and Arrows of Indra, among others). There's a small outdoor-terrain trap table to finish off this section.

After this, we finally start to get to the section that details the islands themselves, arranged by hexes. There's a very short description of each of the three Islands: Korus is the biggest, with its prominent mountain range.  It has populations of Mi-Go, Snake men, a necromancer with something called "doom hawks", and various other unnatural creatures.  Kelis is a jungle-island that features the ruins of a previous civilization, and its main feature is something called the "Shattered Dome".  Kravian is the island that features Zygak-Xith and his worshipers.

I'm obviously not going to detail every single hex; I will say that the hex entries cover 51 pages of the book, so nearly half of the total content.  Almost all of them include small, medium or large-sized adventure/encounter hooks, with a wide diversity of subject matter. As much as I've been mocking the over-the-top 'heavy-metal turned-to-11' attitude of Venger's writing, and some of his other stylistic and structural foibles in the book, there's no question that the vast majority of the stuff he's got in the hex entries is spectacularly creative, playable, diverse, and interesting, if what you want is gory, sometimes sophomoric, occasionally sleazy, and highly weird gonzo-fantasy writing.  If you look at his hex-crawl section, he writes the way I imagine Geoffrey McKinney only wishes he could write.  That is to say, cleverly.

You won't find hex after hex of the same bullshit here, nor will it seem like he just randomly-generated the hex contents.  They're all weird, sometimes ridiculously so, and rarely make much if any sense, but each one was obviously given inspiration and not just dialed-in. No "you encounter 2d6 bone-men" here, no fifty-hexes full of different-colored statues or hybrid animals that seem taken from mixing two randomly-generated normal animals and rolling on a randomly-generated special-attack table.  This section was VASTLY better than I expected it to be based on the first forty pages of the book.

Discounting the Isle of Dread as vastly more vanilla than this product, when you look at the other important "lost island" or "weird world" products out in OSR-land, you have what?  Isle of the Unknown, Carcosa, maybe LotFP's Weird New World.. are there any important ones I missed? As a setting (again, if you can bear the level of almost comical "extremeness" of the book), the Islands of Purple Putrescence kicks the living shit out of all of these, BOTH in terms of creativity and in terms of the level of Gonzo the book has.

The book concludes with a few pages of new spells (over a dozen spells, all of spell levels 2-4, of a suitably weird or badass-destructive nature), and some very interesting magic items; the latter (there's 28 of them, if I counted right) are of the dark-wizardry and nasty-chaos-sword variety, some of which are for all intents and purposes cursed items.

So what to conclude about this book?  Well, it's clearly far from perfect; some of the style is grating to me personally.  And some of the organization is haphazard.  And given that I personal ADORE "gonzo" style play, there are parts of this book that feel like they're trying too hard, to be as "exxxtreme" as possible.
But ultimately none of this matters so much as all the good parts:  most of the tables, and even a lot of the optional rules, fit the setting well, and at least some of them could easily be shifted over to other settings in a similar genre.  The place where Islands really stands out is in the quality of the hexcrawl itself.
If you're looking for a weird-fantasy gonzo-sandbox with sci-fantasy, lots of lovecraftian overtones (does that make this Venger's equivalent of a really-Christian guy writing a Christian RPG?), and a "Heavy Metal" aesthetic, you pretty much have to get this book.  Even if you want any of those component parts for use in your own D&D or OSR game, you'll get a lot of great stuff here.


Currently Smoking: Dunhill Shell Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best

Friday, 24 April 2015

Gone Astral-sailing

The RPGPundit will be on another plane of existence for the next three days. Presumably, I'll see you all Monday, on the other side.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

RPGPundit Interviews: Alexander Macris

This is an interview I did with Alexander Macris, of Autarch games, mostly regarding his upcoming product "The Sinister Stone of Sakkara" (currently being crowdfunded).

I want to note, for the record, that I technically work for Alexander on a website he supervises under his day job with Defy Media.  However, I really don't think that affects the tone of my interview questions; still, full disclosure blah blah blah.  This interview has nothing to do with that job; I'm NOT being paid in any way to do this interview, nor promised anything for it.  Also, the interview was my idea, and not his.

So, let's get to it, shall we?

Pundit:  First, by way of introduction: you are technically my boss at Defy Media, but this is not an interview about that.  You do understand that I will not be treating you any differently than I would anyone else I interview, and may throw you some hardballs here as we go along, right? 

Macris: If you don’t call me swine at least once and follow it up with a fiery barrage of F-bombs I’ll be disappointed.

Pundit:  Let's be honest: you're here to sell something.  So, what is it, this new kickstarter project of yours?  And why should my audience pay attention?

Macris: In any case the Kickstarter is for a product called The Sinister Stone of Sakkara. It’s an introductory adventure for the Adventurer Conqueror King System. It’s the first adventure written specifically for ACKS, and the first set in the Auran Empire setting. I know some members of your audience are fans of ACKS (one called it his “Platonic ideal” of D&D!) so I’m sure it’s worth their attention. For those who don’t actively play ACKS, it’s a harder sell of course! I’d recommend this module to them for the following reasons:

First, if you like old school D&D type games in general, this is one of the most extensive and fleshed out starter adventures since the original Keep on the Borderlands. It has a full starting base (the fort of Türos Tem), a small wilderness sandbox, and a 100-room multi-faction dungeon to explore. Porting these to your favorite retro-clone is relatively trivial.

Second, the module is set in a Late Antiquity setting, an awesome time period of decadence, extravagance, and decline that deserves more attention and support. We offer a fully mapped and keyed fort, bathhouse, eatery, and more. One of my favorite features is the Extravagant Imperial Banquet table, which offers up such amusements as “appetizers of spiced honey-sweetened cheese, a main course of roast boar stuffed with blood sausage with a side of fried green beans in fish sauce, accompanied by Tirenean dry white wine mixed with honey, followed by a dessert of plum fruit tarts, to be enjoyed while the tragedy Ulkyreus in Winter is performed by a troupe of itinerant thespians.

Third, the dungeon itself is a splendid combination of a historically-minded ruin (loosely based on Sumerian architecture) with a gonzo Lovecraftian hellhole, tied together by a cool hook (the eponymous “Sinister Stone”). Matthew Skail, the dungeon designer, really instills a sense of cumulative horror as the creepy images and icons found in the upper level are revealed to be more than just artwork later on. Some of what’s in the lower level is horrific enough that Raggi would be proud. The Abominable Mutations table is one of my favorite bits:

"17. Viscous Bile: The character’s stomach acid becomes incredibly strong. He gains a +2 to saves versus ingested poisons. In addition, once per day, he can spit a glob of acidic vomit at a target up to 30’ away. If he hits the target (a normal ranged attack throw is required), the acid will inflict 2d6 damage, and all within 10’ must save versus Blast or take 1d3 splash damage. The acid will not affect metal or stone, but will dissolve through 1 inch of wood before exhausting itself. The character’s lips and teeth partially melt away each time he spits acid, resulting in a cumulative -1 to all reaction rolls (to a maximum penalty of -4)."

And of course, if you were interested in checking out ACKS, this module makes it really easy to do so. Though I had to laugh at this initial question because I’ve historically been awful at explaining ACKS. I think my first blog post on the game was about the mathematics of medieval agriculture and one of my friends commented “I’m not sure that’s the best way to market your game for mass appeal.” Hopefully I’ve gotten better since then.

Pundit:  I like the sound of 'gonzo lovecraftian horror' (and for that matter, decadent antiquity).  And I especially like random tables.  But of course, you know that, so you may just be trying to push all the right buttons. 
So the next two questions that would be of immediate relevance I think are: are we to assume this is easily usable for any OSR rules that aren't ACKS?  Or is there something that would prevent that?
And also, how much of the product is just adventure, and how much is other stuff (setting, rules, spells, items, random tables, monsters) that could be used by someone who had no interest to run the adventure as such?

Macris: There's no reason it couldn't be used for other OSR games. We're all building from the same chassis. Obviously the closer the game is to the chassis that ACKS started from (BX) the easier the conversion will be. I've converted to and from BFRP, BX/LL, BECMI/RC, LOTFP, OSRIC/1E, and 2E without problems, usually on the fly as I run.

One of the antagonists uses a class that is specific to ACKS, but we provide all the information about her class abilities in the module text, so you could just treat her as a special monster without issue. Some of the information in the module will not be useful to someone who isn't running ACKS, but almost by definition they won't care. E.g. if you aren't running ACKS you probably don't care that you won't get to use the ACKS demand modifiers for mercantile trade that we've provided!

Pundit: Tell us something else about Sinister Stone that has not yet been revealed anywhere.

Macris: One of the antagonists is a young dragon that has been twisted into a mottle-hided fetid-gas-breathing wyrm by the evil radiations of the sinister stone. He lives inside the ruins of a ziggurat where the Zaharans once sacrificed countless victims to fuel the artifact.

Pundit: Ok, that's certainly evocative.  Now tell us about one of the random tables that hasn't been mentioned yet. 

Macris: Have I mentioned the Abominable Mutations table to yet yet? That's one of my favorites. It reminds me of the awesome Games Workshop supplement Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness with its grotesque mutations for the champions of evil. Here are some sample entries:

Tentacles: The character sprouts a set of tentacles from somewhere on his body (usually his abdomen or chest, but the source could be anywhere the Judge desires). These tentacles are as strong as the character is, but lack the manual dexterity of hands and arms. The tentacles cannot wield weapons effectively, but they could hold a torch or other objects, or hold the character up while his arms remain free. In lieu of his normal attacks, the character can attack with his tentacles twice per round, inflicting 1d3-1 points of damage with each (plus his Strength modifier, if any). When the character reaches level 5, his tentacles become capable of harming creatures requiring magic to hit. The character suffers -2 to all reaction rolls due to his monstrous form.

Wings: The character sprouts a pair of bat or insect wings. While these do not allow actual flight, the wings do allow the character to make large leaps (as the jump spell) in places where his wings are free and he has enough room to maneuver. The character must be carrying 4 or fewer stones of encumbrance in order to benefit from the wings. Normal armor, if worn, is quite uncomfortable and prevents the wings from being used at all. Special armor allowing the wings to be used would cost at least twice normal price, assuming a blacksmith could even be convinced to work for a mutant.

Bubbling Skin: The character’s skin is constantly covered in hideous red boils and blisters. As a result of this deformity, the character suffers a -2 to all reaction rolls. However, when burned, the blisters burst and protect the character’s skin with a protective pus, giving him the equivalent of permanent fire resistance (+2 to saves versus fire and -1 damage per die).

Pundit:You're already funded, so now we're getting into stretch goals and special pledge levels.  You've already revealed the first two bonus goals; what kind of bonuses can you hint at? Hell, since I'm giving you this interview you're pretty guaranteed to hit bonus goal 1, so you may as well just reveal the third one!

Macris: It will either be a random table to assist the Judge in generating setting NPCs on the fly or a primer on the campaign setting. We're still gathering feedback from the playerbase.

Pundit: You planning any other limited backer levels?  I remember that when I consulted for Raiders of R'lyeh, a unique backer level (that I agreed on) was that for $2000 you'd get a bunch of stuff plus the RPGPundit would fly to where you live and run a game for you (of Raiders, or any of his games).  Do you go for those kinds of gimmicks?

Macris: Most of our past Kickstarters have included gimmicks like that. For ACKS, for instance, we had a reward level wherein a patron met up with me one-on-one, rolled up an epic hero, and adventured with the original Auran Empire campaign players. (That character later appeared in Domains at War, too). However, for The Sinister Stone of Sakkara, we've eschewed some of the more esoteric rewards. Autarch may have gained some respect for *finishing* Dwimmermount, but it didn't gain any kudos for its logistical prowess, and we want to keep things clean and simple this time around. I'd rather rebuild our reputation by delivering a timely Kickstarter than complicate matters in the hopes of extracting some more revenue.

Pundit: Since you brought Dwimmermount into evidence, as it were, I'll bring up something I was meaning to anyways in this interview.  I do think that most people feel like you, on the Autarch side of things, handled the fiasco that was Dwimmermount as well and as honorably as you could possibly manage given the shitty circumstances.  But there is an element of "reputation rebuilding" required here.  What do you think you can say to people to reassure them that this time things will be very different?

Macris: I felt that I had to address this directly in the Kickstarter itself, and I spent some time on that explanation, so I'm going to repeat it here. "Having learned from past experience, we are adopting a different approach for this Kickstarter:
1. The product has already been written. All of the text and maps for the adventure are finalized. As soon as we are funded, Conqueror-level backers and above will get the texts and maps so they can immediately begin enjoying the product.
2. Backer rewards have been streamlined into a small number of tiers with clear-cut rewards without a large number of special cases that can complicate and confuse our logistics.
3. Bonus goals have been carefully plotted out to be delivered within our overall framework without causing delay.
4. The Kickstarter as a whole is less ambitious in scope than the sprawling Dwimmermount mega-dungeon and entire rules sets of our two prior projects."

I suppose you could say that we studied what went wrong with Dwimmermount, and we made sure to control against those issues. That doesn't mean other issues can't arise and screw things up - as Von Moltke says, "no plan survives the first day of battle" - but they'll be new issues at least!

Pundit: Quite a few years back now, I had pitched you the idea of you publishing my Arrows of Indra game, which instead ended up being published by Bedrock Games, to good results.  The reason, ultimately, why you didn't take me up on that one was because you wanted me to make it for ACKS while I didn't want to go that route.   Do you now still feel that you will most likely only continue to make ACKS products, or do you now think you might someday publish some other kind of game or non-ACKS supplement?  

Macris: For the foreseeable future we intend to publish ACKS material. We have a large volume of material nearly written: Guns of War, our LotFP-compatible rules supplement for early modern mass combat; Lairs & Encounters, a Judge's supplement with dynamic lairs and advanced monster rules; Heroic Companion, a supplement to flavor ACKS for heroic fantasy; several modules; and of course one day the Auran Empire Campaign Setting.

If we do deliver something outside of ACKS, it will likely be to push something outside of RPGs - a miniature game, boxed boardgame, etc.

Pundit:  Going back to the Dwimmermount, I think that (aside from having trusted in the wrong person), one of the big issues in kickstarters in general is when people haven't finished the writing of the product before starting. I know that if I were ever to do a kickstarter, I would insist with any partner (because you know, I'd only be the writer, not the publisher) that the writing would need to be done before we start the crowdfunding.   Do you think this is always the right way to go?  

Macris: I agree with you. At this time I cannot even imagine launching a Kickstarter without having the book already written.

Pundit: What do you think the usual suspects will find to be offended about "sinister stone"?

Macris: I couldn't begin to guess.

Pundit: So when you say you couldn't begin to guess, do you mean that literally?  When you are working on game design, in both writing and art direction, do you in any way try to worry about whether something might conceivably be offensive to someone? Or would you say that, in this day and age, that's a completely wasted effort?

Macris: Yes, I mean that literally. I am always surprised when these sort of discussions crop up, even today in these outraged times. No, I don't worry about whether the material I'm working on could offend others. I'm certainly not trying to shock or offend (the way James Desborough does, sometimes, for instance); but neither am I trying not shock or offend.  I just think tastes vary. What offends me might delight you; what shocks you might bore me.  Some people will love ACKS, some people will hate it, and others won't even care enough to have an opinion at all. I'm thankful we live in a world where there are RPGs for every taste and palate, and opportunities for any RPG designer to release a game that will appeal to that taste, however niche it might be. It's a great, exciting time for creators and gamers.

Pundit: Ok, final question: what do you think the future looks like for the OSR?  Will more conventional rulesets and adventure modules be what moves it forward, or interesting and new rulesets and settings, or will it increasingly become about more radical "gonzo" or otherwise unconventional settings?  Is there room for anything else that will really surprise people in the future? WIll the OSR continue to grow, or is it at its peak now?

Macris: I think it will continue to grow, but the newer products will not be retro-clone rules sets.

The rise of the retro-clones was driven by several trends: (1) Dissatisfaction with contemporary games such as 4e D&D and (2) inability to commercially purchase the older rule sets. Most of the classic rules sets are now available either straight from the publisher or as retro-clones. And many people who were playing OSR games are now playing or talking about 5E. 5E seems to be, if not part of the OSR, at least compatible with it.

It seems apparent that 5E will not have as many adventures, splat books, and supplements produced by Wizards as its predecessors enjoyed. If so, then a broad, easily-accessible license for 5E could inspire a flourishing development community to create products that Wizards will not, and I'm sure many of those will be part of or rise from the OSR.

Meanwhile, the existing OSR games will be competing with 5E. Role-playing game systems compete not just by their mechanics but by their strength as networks - number of available players, number of available gamemasters, amount of supporting content for gamemasters. So the OSR games that flourish will be the ones that have existing bodies of players, GMs enthused about running the game, and a volume of support product to keep the game alive.

So these trends make me think we will see fewer new rules sets but lots more more adventures, maps, settings, and so on that are either part of the OSR or at least OSR-inspired.

So that's it; thanks to Alexander Macris.  Check out his kickstarter!


Currently Smoking: Winslow Crown Billiard + C&D's Crowley's Best

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

"Earth Day" And the Future or Doom of Humanity

It's Earth Day, everyone! The day where we get told about how awful technology, innovation, and our western civilization, and heck, humanity in general is!  Where we're going to be subject to long speeches about "Sustainability", meaning that we should all cut down on our carbon consumption, eat less meat, give up our cars, turn back the clocks, ration food and water, and wait it out in the Cave until the species dies out.

And live off Okra for as long as we can, until it stops growing.

Yeah, Interstellar.  Some people seem to think its an "environmentalist" movie.  It's not.  It's actually very specifically a movie about the MASSIVE FAIL of the modern Politicized-Environmentalist movement.  It is a movement that despises the very civilization that can provide solutions for the problems they claim to worry about, but they'd rather have the solution of forcing our civilization backward into a more primitive state and just use less. And if that means forcible rationing, or forcing people to be farmers, or five billion people needing to be 'gotten rid of' to make the Sustainability-Equation work, well, so be it. For "Mother Earth".

This image has been floating around all day in the G+:

To which I answer:  "This is the only home we have? Just You Fucking Wait."

I will not be scaremongered into giving up on humanity's future.  I know that innovation, that enterprise, that technology and science and the principles of western civilization are the potential ANSWER to those very real problems of environmental harm and resource-management.  We can NEVER "cut back" enough to make it work, and why the fuck would we?! So we as a species can farm in some pre-industrial hippie dystopia while we wait out the next meteor strike or super-volcano?

The SOLUTION?  GMO foods. Thorium Nuclear Reactors.  Yes, also vastly improved solar technology.  Helium 3 from the moon.  3-D printers.  AI.  Going into space and "Imperialist"-ing the living fuck out of it.
And shitloads of stuff no one has even thought of yet, but yes, thinking.  Actually bothering to look for innovative solutions rather than just wanting to use environmental dangers as an excuse to impose a Collectivist Autocracy and force everyone to become less, and humanity to stunt itself.

My two favorite quotes from that movie:
"It's like we've forgotten who we are. We're explorers, pioneers, not 'caretakers'".

""We used to look up and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry at our place in the dirt".

That's the future, for "Sustainability".  That's why I'm not interested.

Sorry, I'm not planning on sitting around worrying about my place in the dirt.  Humanity has places to go.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Quiete + Dunhill 965

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Everyjoe Tuesday: College/Tumblr Leftists Edition

This week in my Everyjoe article, we look at the question of "just how important, or blown out of proportion, is the influence of the College-liberals and Tumblr-leftists and their censorious demands"?

My answer? The influence of these Collectivist censors on the next generation is a serious risk to free speech and personal freedom.

Find out why, and check out my list of 14+ insane things that College pseudo-activists have banned or tried to ban!

As always, comments are disabled here, so go comment over there!  It's easy and fun!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti volcano + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Monday, 20 April 2015

"Real Magick" in RPGs: Tools & Talismans

First, once again, our foundational rule as always: in real world occultism, it's EASY to find occult knowledge, it's HARD to find anyone who actually engages in practicing it, because 90% of the people in the scene are armchair-magicians or posers or frauds or dilettantes, anything but people who actually work at doing magick.

One way to tell a faker from someone (potentially) genuine is to look at the magical accoutrements they use.  Are they going around with a fancy-looking crystal-encrusted rune-marked perfectly-straight wand that may have been store-bought or ordered from Etsy?  They're 99% likely to be frauds (that last percentage point is just because there just may be some serious magician who has gotten to the level of occult talent that he doesn't have to give a fuck what he does, and also doesn't care about being mistaken for a poser).

(this one was being sold by a company called "The Unicorn Shoppe". I kid you not)

Are they using an wooden wand they clearly crafted themselves (or maybe even a metal wand they smelted themselves) with tremendous attention to qabbalistic correspondences? There's maybe only a 70% chance they're fakers.  Why so high still, you ask, given that clearly it's a case of someone doing something?

For a very good reason: collecting (or even making) the accoutrements of magick does not make you a magician.  There are lots of people who, in addition to collecting an enormous library of occult grimoires (the likes of which would have made John Dee piss his robe with envy), also collect or even carefully craft the magical tools, the wand, the lamp, the altar, paint a ritual room, carefully carve enochian tables using authentic medieval methods, commission gold-trimmed robes and the most expensive frankincense, and so on, but then don't actually do a damn thing with them all.   Sort of like the guy who collects hundreds of RPG books and owns 17 pounds of dice (and probably posts like crazy on internet forums), but never 'has the time' to actually play.

(here's a "did it all my fucking self and I'm probably too busy making wands to do any actual magick" wand)

Finally, if your possible magician's wand is just a stick, there's maybe a 90% chance of being a faker.  Or better put, this is the scenario where the person in question is either going to be a total faker/poser/newbie of no value (probably claiming they're a 'chaos magician'), or a really impressively competent magician.  The guys in the middle, the eager-beavers trying hard to figure out how to do all this stuff, will become obsessive about trying to get every last technical detail right, following Golden Dawn rules or following the precise (often ridiculously difficult) instructions found in medieval grimoires. This is important, for the discipline needed to learn. Thing is, when you get to the level of adept suddenly all those tools have been largely internalized, as have the correspondences. And at that point you can do magick equally well with the simplest of tools, or even whatever objects you have at hand.  Aleister Crowley famously once did a magical operation halfway up a mountain using the stuff from his climbing gear.

Which brings us to the use of magical talismans.  A talisman is a term for some kind of physical object that was used in a magical ritual to imbue it with some kind of particular 'magical link' to an archetypal force, to achieve a specific purpose.   This is used to create a more lasting effect or for purposes you know you're going to need over and over again.

For talismans, the rule is exactly the same as with all the other magical tools and equipment: if it's all fancy and clearly store-bought it's almost certainly useless. If it's meticulously made (usually, in the case of western magical talismans, at least, out of some type of metal) with carved hebrew characters or sigils, there's a (high) chance it's bullshit and a (small) chance it might be the work of some intermediate magician (and thus reflective of either a successful or unsuccessful operation).

(here's a fancy talisman, which means it probably does nothing)

What about the advanced ones?  Well, consider this: the most powerful of all the medieval grimoires (the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage) has a set of talismans in it (and guidelines for creating them or others of the same kind) that are so dangerous that they can only be used by Adepts.  These are the most powerful and effective talismans in western magick.  And what do they look like?

Like a slip of paper with a square full of letters on it.  Something that could be mistaken for a doodle, or an incoherent crossword.

The most advanced magicians usually make talismans that don't look like talismans at all.

They can only do this effectively, again, because as adepts they have completely internalized the power of Symbol.  The reason you need, when you're starting out, to follow the rules (and the reason why most rule-breaking 'chaos magicians' are kind of crappy in spite of tending to actually try to do magick more often than most other types of magicians) is because these outward objects end up acting as powerful symbolic aids in connecting your conscious mind to the True Will, and from there to those Archetypal Forces you're trying to work with.  This is another important rule of 'real magick': the more simple anything to do with magick is, the more advanced of a magician you have to be to do it right.  The most complex rituals, though technically difficult, are the ones you'll be most likely to succeed at if you're a hard-working beginner.  The "simplest" stuff (in terms of technical complexity) requires that you already have a strong background in the practice of daily preliminary disciplines and have internalized the symbols through a series of personal initiations and 'ordeals' (that is, shifts in your level of consciousness).  Trying to 'skip ahead' to the stuff that looks easier will usually just leave you in a dead end.

In a modern-occult RPG, you could have some rumor going around about some serious magician, said to own a talisman of an aspect of Jupiter that was revealed to him during astral working while he was working with a secret book (the "Second Book of Abramelin", which had been dictated to him by his Augoeides while working adept-level ritual).   This facet of Jupiter (who called himself Jupiter Celestion) governed work, discipline, labor, planning, enjoyment (in and of labor), and the creation of the material world (that last aspect would be particularly interesting, as it would permit the magician to manipulate the most basic level of material reality).  Celestion endowed this magician with a talisman that, when held and activated, would draw material wealth, never undeserved wealth but in the form of easy opportunities to labor at what one would most love doing.

Now, the PCs might wish to try to obtain this talisman, in essence cheating their way to magical power (that never ends well, mind you, but maybe they're stupid or something), so they try to find this guy's talisman.  They're looking for some kind of metal disk (tin, probably, since that's the qabalistic metal of Jupiter) with Jupiter-related symbols on it, or some other kind of fancy object. They fail to find it, maybe get caught.  Imagine their surprise when the magician chuckles at their naivete and reveals the reason they came up empty-handed: they were looking for some fancy piece of jewelry, but it turns out the Talisman of Jupiter Celestion is an 25 cent piece.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Volcano + H&H's Beverwyck

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Weekend Crash

I'm sorry this weekend is turning out to be a bust, but having gamed last night till very late, and feeling a bit under the weather today, I'm going to focus on writing up my article and maybe getting a bit further in the upcoming review of "The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence".  That should be a good one.

Meanwhile, if you want me to keep making my blog a bigger priority, and to encourage me to keep providing awesome detailed reviews, truth-telling diatribes, insane campaign reports, interesting mechanical discussions and material, and controversial stances on the RPG hobby, please consider sending me clicking on that Paypal button to the right over there, and sending me some cash!   Show me you appreciate what I do on here, and I'll want to do it more and bigger and better.

Thanks to those who have donated in the past!


Currently Smoking: Neerup Egg + Image Perique